Religious and Inter-religious Education
Dr. Hansjoerg Biener:
Europe's Inter-Faith History - An Exploratory Research of European School Textbooks
Background to the Project
The Proposal: Analysis of the Historic Presence of Several Religions in Europe and the Need for Inter-religious Knowledge as Represented by European School Textbooks
The Tool: Text Book Research
Anticipated Results of the Project
Background to the Project
It has long been recognised, that education is a vital tool to prepare students for a future as responsible citizens in the multi-facetted societies in the framework of a multi-cultural European Union.
The past and future role of the different religions in the development of “Europe” is still under debate. From a secular point of view, there are tendencies to exclude religion from the European forum, thus ignoring the on-going positive and negative influence religions have on individuals and excluding the potential benefit organised religion has for civil society. On the other hand, for example in some sections of the Roman-Catholic and Orthodox Churches, members of the Church leadership would like to revive a common Christian heritage, thus ignoring the historic presence of the Jewish and Muslim faiths on European soil and verbally excluding European citizens of those faiths from being true Europeans.
But members of the different European faiths have also recognised the need to work equally with members of other faiths, non-religious NGOs and governments towards a kind of citizenship able to communicate with different cultural traditions. From our perspective, this does include both knowledge of the religious traditions and of history. The perception of European inter-faith history should not be dominated by catchwords like “crusade”, “reconquista”, “ethnic cleansing” or “fundamentalism” which provide a “them vs. us”-perspective. Students and future citizens are to be equipped both with the historical knowledge and the conclusions necessary for tackling new challenges by acknowledging how much they owe to the many strands of European tradition.
Proposal: Analysis of the Historic Presence of Several Religions in Europe
and the Need for Inter-religious Knowledge as Represented by European School
The Peace Education Standing Commission proposes a European school textbook research project addressing the representation of the historic presence of several world religions in Europe and the need for inter-religious knowledge. The examples of Spain, Sicily and South East Europe show that the numerically, culturally or politically dominant religion would not always be Christianity. Although there have been “clashes of civilisations” there has also been a profound Jewish and Muslim influence on Europe. With regard to the Islamist threat perceived by many in the European public, the focus should be on the improvement of the perception of the historic presence of Islam in Europe as well as a renewed perception that religious and cultural diversity might also be seen as an asset for Europe’s future in a globalised world.
The Peace Education Standing Commission would be in a position to spark research projects in several European countries, to influence curricula and school text books in different European countries towards a more common recognition of Europe's inter-faith heritage.
Tool: Text Book Research
In the past decades, the presentation of religions has become the subject of several major research projects. From 1979 to 1988 Professors Dr Adoldjavad Falaturi and Dr Udo Tworuschka of Cologne University organised a research project on the representation of Islam in German textbooks involving some 50 scholars and provoking similar studies in several European countries. This research project is now complemented by research into the representation of Christianity in countries with an Islamic tradition (1999-2002) organised by Professors Dr Johannes Laehnemann and Dr Klaus Hock at the universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Rostock in contact with the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research Braunschweig. The project is actively involved in dialogue with scholars and institutions in Turkey and also covers Egypt with contacts to Iran and Jordan now being established. Thus it is continually developing both scientific tools for textbook research as well as strategies in inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue in the development of curricula and text books.
It is obvious that there is a minority-majority perspective in it, implicitly accepting that Christianity would be the predominant original religion in Germany and Islam would be the undisputed majority religion in the Middle East. It must be most interesting to complement those two projects by studies looking into the Muslim-Christian history of Europe as a common history, with both Christianity and Islam and also the Jewish Faith contributing to the heritage of Europe. Scientific guidance would be secured by the scholars involved in the steering committee and advisory council of the Peace Education Standing Commission. In the context of the preparation of this proposal, experts from outside the committees have also expressed interest in advising the project (Bosnia, Italy). Preliminary results of on-going research will be presented on several occasions including the upcoming Nuremberg Forum.
Results of the Project
The general aim of the proposed project is to spark research projects in several European countries in order to influence curricula and school text books in different European countries towards a more common recognition of Europe inter-faith heritage. The scientific study of school textbooks and curricula has historically served three main purposes:
(1) practical improvement of existing textbooks and curricula
(2) study of the general views permeating a society
(3) study of the role of textbooks within the actual process in the class room
These aspects are present in any textbook research. While publications originating from the proposed project would certainly concentrate on the first two aspects, one should not underestimate the influence of the third aspect when preliminary results of the studies are discussed with teachers.
(4) Joint text book research also served as a bilateral confidence building measure where political relations were strained. Two prime examples of good practice would be joint projects between scholars of Germany and Israel and between scholars of Germany and Poland. Given the historic clashes and guilt in the relations between Germany and those countries, it is easy to see that this experience might serve as a model for building mutual knowledge and acceptance in South East Europe like Bosnia, Kosovo and Bulgaria with its tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities.
As the experience of the current project on the representation of Christianity in the textbooks of Muslim countries shows the benefit of such a project is not only in the final publication but already in the process of contacting potential partners in the respective countries, in raising awareness for the issue and in influencing opinion building. The same can be expected from the proposed project on the historic presence of several religions in Europe and the need for inter-religious knowledge. It ought to have an impact both on the actual development of school books and curricula as well as the scientific and political fields.